By ELIZABETH HAYES

Staff Reporter

Downtown Los Angeles has a much-publicized problem: too many obsolete old office buildings and not enough housing. Tom Gilmore thinks he has the answer.

Gilmore, head of investment/development firm Gilmore Associates, plans to transform three dilapidated and vacant Old Bank District buildings into 235 loft apartments.

Of course, these turn-of-the-century buildings were designed to house banks, not residents, and have neither the plumbing, wiring or even interior walls of apartment buildings. Gilmore, however, is betting that they can be converted using minimal interior flourishes not even walls between rooms.

Designed by architect Wade Killefer, each apartment will sport an unusual 12-foot by 12-foot cube that will, in a single unit, house three elements normally found in separate rooms a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.

The kitchen would be set into the front of the cube, complete with deep stone countertops, shelves, stove and oven. The bathroom door is set in the cube behind the kitchen. On units with high enough ceilings, stairs running along one side of the cube will lead to a sleeping loft on top.

"The trick is to let the apartments work around the big windows, so when you walk into these buildings, you get a sense of open, well-lit spaces," said Killefer, of Santa Monica-based Killefer Flammang Purtill Architects.

All new plumbing will be installed, in addition to new air-conditioning and heating systems, cable TV hookups and other amenities.

The three buildings run along Fourth Street, from Spring to Main. Gilmore has acquired two properties and is in escrow on the third, while he secures the necessary building and fire safety permits.

He and his partners have kicked in $2 million and he's lined up financing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city to cover the balance of the $31.5 million project, which should begin construction this fall.

If the closely watched development is a success, Gilmore has his sights set on other historical office buildings nearby that could follow suit.

The three bank buildings once stood at the hub of the city's bustling financial district. They are known as the San Fernando Building, the Hellman Building and the 12-story Continental Building, one of the city's first skyscrapers.

Because they were made to be offices, the loft apartments don't have a lot of walls, but they do have windows, creating space that is open, light and airy.

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